Ducks manager Kevin Baez announced Tuesday a shake-up to his playoff rotation entering the Atlantic League Championship Series, which begins Wednesday night at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.
Matt Larkins will start Game 1 of the best-of-five matchup against the York Revolution as the Ducks begin the final hurdle in their quest to capture the franchise’s fourth Atlantic League title in their 18-year history, and first since 2013. The Ducks won the regular season series with York, 11-9.
John Brownell, who started Game 1 of the Liberty Division Championship Series against the Somerset Patriots last week, will start Game 3, scheduled for Friday night in York, Baez said.
Larkins was 9-7 with a 3.69 ERA this season. Despite some control issues, he pitched well in the Ducks’ Game 2 victory over the Patriots last week. The 28-year-old allowed one run and four hits in 5 2⁄3 innings. He struck out four, but walked a season-high seven batters.
“Early on, I had good command,” Larkins said. “It’s going to be about being able to continue that the whole game. [York] is an aggressive team and a really good hitting team. So, it’ll just be being able to command the fastball to both sides and being able to control the offspeed and keep them off-balance.”
“His slider and sinker were really good,” catcher Alex Burg said of Larkins’ Game 2 performance. “We have to get his changeup going and get a couple more strikeouts here and there. But he kept us in the game and battled for five plus innings. I thought he did a great job and am excited for him to go in Game 1.”
Brownell, who has been a major part of the Ducks’ playoff runs since 2012, was roughed up for seven runs (four earned) and 13 hits in 5 1⁄3 innings in Game 1. He twisted his ankle during last week’s loss. Brownell’s health is the main reason he was pushed back to Game 3, Baez said.
“He probably could go Wednesday, but we wanted to make sure he was 100 percent ready,” Baez said.
Jake Fisher is scheduled to start Game 2. Fisher, who was acquired in a Sept. 8 trade with the Independent Frontier League, pitched a complete game gem in Game 3 against Somerset. Former major-leaguer Jake Dunning is slated to start Game 4.
The series represents the end of a nearly year- long journey that the Ducks hope ends in redemption. After winning last year’s Liberty Division Championship Series in dramatic fashion, fighting back from an 2-0 deficit to win the final three games, the Ducks were swept by Sugar Land in the championship series.
A victory over York, and another trophy in Central Islip, would wash away the bitter taste that still hasn’t completely left Bethpage Ballpark.
“This is something that a lot of guys have been thinking about since last year,” outfielder and hitting coach Lew Ford said. “The goal was to get back here and finish this thing the right way this year.”